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Advice

Westmont Observatory to Marvel at Caroline’s Rose and Other Autumnal Star Clusters

Several globular clusters will be visible at a free public viewing of the stars Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and lasting several hours at the Westmont observatory.

In case of inclement or overcast weather, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at 805.565.­6272 and check the Westmont website to see if the viewing has been canceled.

The observatory opens its doors to the public every third Friday of the month in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, whose members bring their own telescopes to Westmont for the public to gaze through.

The Keck telescope is housed in the observatory between Russell Carr Field and the track and field/soccer complex. Free parking is available near the baseball field.

The globular clusters M2 and M15, each holding hundreds of thousands of stars far older than the sun, will be in good position for the viewing. 

“In the northern sky, we will show an autumn favorite, the Owl Cluster, NGC 457,” said Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor.  “Also known as the ET cluster, it has two bright eyes and a pair of wings that make it look like an owl in the sky. This cluster lies about 10,000 light-years from Earth, yet its bright, young stars can be easily picked up in any modest backyard telescope.”

The Westmont Observatory welcomes the public every third Friday for free star gazing. Click to view larger
The Westmont Observatory welcomes the public every third Friday for free star gazing. (Westmont phoo)

Also to the north, the viewing will feature NGC 7789, which was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783. “It’s often called Caroline’s Rose in her honor,” Whittemore says. “It’s also referred to as the White Rose Cluster because the stars in this cluster seem to have the shape of rose petals.”

The bright planets in our solar system are unavailable at the viewing because they are currently in the morning sky. In fact, there will be a conjunction of the planets Mercury, Jupiter, Mars and Venus in the early morning sky Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015.

“You’ll want to find a location where you can view the eastern/southeastern horizon about 30–60 minutes before sunrise (5–5:30 a.m.),” he says. “I’ve been watching the planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter in the early morning the last several weeks. Amazingly, Mercury will join them the morning of the 17. Venus will be the highest in the sky with Mars and Jupiter below, followed by the rising of Mercury before the Sun comes up.”

— Scott Craig is the manager of media relations for Westmont College.

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